Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world. In today's edition:
- No More Bible Classes in a Tennessee County
- Saudi Arabia Jails Indian National
- Park's Baptism Ban an 'Egregious Violation of First Amendment'
- 15 Killed in Car Bombs as Christians Flee Iraq
No More Bible Classes in a Tennessee County
A federal appeals court Monday upheld a court order that stopped 50 years of teaching Bible classes in the public schools of Rhea County, Tennessee -- home of the "Scopes Monkey Trial." A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld a February 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar of Chattanooga. Edgar ruled that the "Bible Education Ministry Program" violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which allegedly calls for separation of Church and State. Rhea County School superintendent Sue Porter says school board members will likely discuss whether to appeal Monday's decision at their Thursday night meeting. The 30-minute Bible classes were held weekly for about 800 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the county's three elementary schools. Parental consent was not required, but students were allowed to participate in alternative activities if they objected to the classes. A couple with two children attending the schools sued over the classes. A branch of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation was also a plaintiff in the Bible class case.
Saudi Arabia Jails Indian National
An Indian national abducted and tortured by Saudi Arabia’s religious police for "spreading Christianity" remains jailed without trial 10 weeks after his detention. Brian Savio O’Connor, 36, was accosted in the Mursalat district of Riyadh on the evening of March 25 by four agents of the muttawa (religious police). After seeing his Saudi identity card listing O’Connor as a Christian, they dragged him to a nearby muttawa office, chained his legs and hung him upside down for seven hours. The four intermittently beat him on the chest and ribs and whipped the soles of his feet with electrical wires. In response to questions, O’Connor declared that he did preach the Bible, but denied converting Muslims to Christianity. At 2 a.m., the muttawa took O’Connor to the Olaya police station and ordered him put under arrest on charges of preaching Christianity, selling liquor and peddling drugs. A cargo agent for Saudia Airlines for the past six years, O’Connor, currently shares a windowless cell with 16 other inmates at Al-Hair Prison. The All India Catholic Union, the Indian Bishops’ Conference and officials of the Indian Embassy have filed appeals to Saudi authorities on O’Connor’s behalf, but their inquiries have gone unanswered.
Park's Baptism Ban an 'Egregious Violation of First Amendment'
Charisma News Service
A Virginia church recently got into some hot water for conducting river baptisms in a public park. Last month, officials of a park just outside Fredericksburg, tried to break up the ceremony, claiming it might be offensive to nearby swimmers or other people using the park. Todd Pyle, senior pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Stafford County, was able to finish baptizing 12 new members of his flock, but then he was asked to leave. The incident has outraged free-speech advocates who are typically on opposite sides of issues. "These people are being discriminated against because of the content of their speech," said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, who heads the Christian Defense Coalition. "It's one of the most egregious violations of the First Amendment I have ever seen." Mahoney's group has threatened to sue if the park refuses to allow future gatherings by religious groups, something for which officials admit it has no written policy. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the rule may be illegal and a form of religious discrimination. Pyle said he chose to hold an outdoor baptism because his church lacks an indoor baptismal pool. He said few people seemed to notice the small congregation. But park officials said religious groups seeking to perform a service in the park still need to apply for a permit or else gather under a shelter or inside. Pyle said he will find another location for future baptisms. "It was never our intent to start a debate or create a controversy," he said. "Our desire was to celebrate the eternal life God had given us through His son, Jesus Christ."
15 Killed in Car Bombs as Christians Flee Iraq
Stefan Bos, ASSIST News Service
At least 14 Iraqis and one American soldier were killed in two car bomb explosions that rocked separate cities Tuesday, June 8, adding to anxiety among the country's minority Christians, many of whom are reportly fleeing the troubled nation. One of the car bombs blew up as a convoy of provincial council members passed by in the northern city of Mosul. The council members escaped injury but at least nine people died and about 25 were injured, including the Mosul deputy police chief. In another attack, a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb during rush hour outside the American forward operating base War Horse in Baqouba, about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. The apperant lack of security came as church officials claimed that Iraqi Christians "are voting with their feet" by leaving, amid fears that the country will become an undemocratic Islamic state under a new government. Reverend Ken Joseph Jr. said the June 30th deadline for transfer of power will be accompanied by a Temporary Constitution that reads in Article 7, "Islam is the Official Religion of the State". He also cited "the most recent humiliation for the community - the failure to receive even one position on the Executive Council and only one Ministry Post -the Ministry of Emigration" in the 36-member cabinet as reasons why Christians are leaving Iraq. In addition Christians object that a Muslim imam preached a sermon and said a prayer at the ceremony while leaders from Iraq's centuries-old Christian community were not even invited. It was not clear how many Christian refugees there are, but in some areas "400 families" are immigrating.